Air Fryer vs Convection Oven: Which is better for you?

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What’s the Difference Between an Air Fryer and a Convection Oven?

If someone out there is telling you that you need both an air fryer and a convection oven, stop taking that person’s advice because they’re totally wrong. There’s not enough difference between air fryers and convection ovens to warrant both.

They both cook with the same method, convection cooking which means using fans to circulate hot air. This cooks food faster and more evenly than traditional ovens and makes food extra crispy. Which is exactly why air fryers and convection ovens have become so popular. They created delicious, fried food without having to deal with messy and unhealthy oil.

The main difference between the two different appliances is size. The smaller the convection appliance, the crispier and quicker it cooks the food. Which is why the small air fryers are pretty much the best option if you’re looking to make some quick an easy “fried” foods for yourself or family.

Unfortunately, the major draw back to air fryers is also their size. If you’re looking to cook full meals in your convection oven or have a lot of people you need to be cooking for, you might want to size up to a larger convection appliance because having to cook foods in small batches can be quite annoying.

However, before you size up, check your oven. Many regular kitchen ovens and ranges have a convection cooking mode built-in. Did you know this? My mom had no idea her oven had a convection mode until I showed her the little button she’d been ignoring for years.

Conventional ovens are the least precise method of convection cooking, but work alright especially if you’re looking to make a lot of food or something extra big. So, if you have an oven that has a convection mode built-in, it may sway your decision on whether or not an air fryer or counter-top convection oven is right for you.

So your choice here is whether you need a convection appliance that’s close to the size of your coffee maker, or one that’s a bit bigger than a toaster oven on average.

For example, my oven does have a convection cooking mode. If I’m cooking something big or need a big batch of “fried” food, I use my oven. Then I bought an air fryer for the quickest, daily cooking for just my family and I absolutely love it. Adding a convection oven into the mix would just feel redundant.

However, if you know you want to cook big items, complex meals, or large batches of food convection style and your oven doesn’t have a convection mode, then a convection oven may be the better choice for you as it will allow you to cook a much larger range of food.

The Pros and Cons of an Air Fryer

Air fryers are usually smaller, small enough to easily fit on your countertop, and cook food the quickest and crispiest due to their small size and the close position of the fan in relation to the food and heat elements. However, let’s go a little bit more in-depth on the pros and cons below.

  • When using your air fryer, you can’t check your food as easily as you can with a convection oven. Air fryers have solid, opaque basket walls, so you have to pull the basket slightly out to check on it which disrupts the cooking process. This is especially irritating when you’re new to air frying and learning how to convert recipes to your air fryer.
  • Air fryers are considerably louder than a convection oven, reaching 65 decibels or so. This isn’t a huge deal to me since it’s not on for very long, but some people definitely get annoyed by this noise.
  • Cleaning air fryers is kind of a pain. You have to clean a perforated basket along with its drip bucket. I’m sure you can imagine how fun it is when you’re cleaning especially greasy foods or saucy foods. In comparison, the convection oven is more like a traditional oven where you just have to clean the one pan.
  • Air fryers are the quickest method of convection cooking. In fact, the only appliance that cooks faster is a microwave, but I’m not a fan of odd textured microwaved food. Yuck!
  • The fans on air fryers are large, fast, and optimally located directly above the food and directly below the heating element. Convection oven fans are located in the back, away from the heating elements.
  • Air fryer fans also typically operate 30%  faster than convection oven fans.
  • Air fryers make the crispiest food out of the convection appliances and have the most even heat distribution as well.
  • Air fryers are famed for their ability to cook frozen foods and “fried” foods, but are also able to cook more traditional foods like fish, chicken, vegetables, etc. However, you are limited by how much of these kinds of food you can cook at a time. I couldn’t make a fish meal for my family of six in an air fryer.
  • You’ll save power with an air fryer since it only requires heating a small space instead of a large space like a full-sized oven and not only preheats faster, but also cooks food faster.
  • The perforated basket that’s kind of annoying to clean is also a plus since it allows for even air distribution and also allows excess grease and fat to drip through which helps minimize calories and allows your food to stay dry and crispy
  • Air fryers are more portable than convection ovens. This is great if you don’t plan to use your air fryer often and want to be able to put it away and store it easily.
  • Air fryers are built to be more tall than wide, which is great if you have a limited amount of counter space.
  • If you want to cook a large amount of food, the air fryer’s size can be very limiting. Requiring you to make meals in batches, which probably means something is going to be cool by the time you’re finished.
  • It’s super easy to flip food in an air fryer. Just give the basket a good shake.
  • Air fryers aren’t able to cook as many varieties of food as convection ovens can. Given their size, air fryers aren’t quite as versatile as their larger convection counterparts.
  • Air fryers have many optional accessories that allow for quick and even cooking with little flipping or tossing. They include things like trays, racks, spits for rotisseries, and skewers for kebabs. Small baking pans or tin cans also be placed on racks, if desired. These accessories help you get a little close to the range of cooking that can be done in a convection oven.
  • You can’t disable the fans on an air fryer. Most convection ovens allow you to turn off the fan for baking.
  • Air fryers are typically more expensive than convection ovens.

The Pros and Cons of a Convection Oven

Convection ovens are larger than air fryers and can cook bigger batches of food. Unfortunately, because they are larger and the fan not as close to the food or the heating elements, the results are slightly less precise and less crispy than an air fryer. Because of their size, they also cook a little slower than air fryers and take up a lot more counter space.

Convection oven are often confused with conventional ovens and toaster ovens, but they aren’t quite like either. They’re just an oven that specialized in convection cooking, which is cooking where a fan pushes hot air around the food to help it cook more evenly and crisply.

In terms of general thinking, convection ovens can do everything an air-fryer can do, but air fryers can’t do everything a convection oven can. The question is, do you actually need and want all of the extra things a convection oven can do?

Here are the main pros and cons of a convection oven:

  • Convection ovens typically have racks large enough for a sheet pan
  • They are large enough that you can cook big batches of food without having to stack it in layers and crowd in onto one pan. You can also usually stack pans on top of each other to make even more food at once.
  • The ability to have a single layer of food and enough space between food is crucial to an even crisp, and something air fryers struggle with sometimes, especially when people overfill the baskets to try and cook more. If the air can’t move around all of the food it can’t cook it evenly.
  • They cook faster than a conventional oven or a toaster oven, but more slowly than an air fryer or microwave.
  • They also make food crispier than a conventional oven or toaster oven, but less crispy than an air fryer.
  • They save electricity over cooking with a conventional oven because they’re smaller, pre-heat faster, and cook faster.
  • They take up quite a bit more counter space than an air fryer and are also less portable.
  • The conventional oven layout, with interior racks and a wide layout that looks much like a small traditional oven, allows you to cook a much greater variety of food than an air fryer.
  • You’ll probably want to invest in some perforated pans. While you can use traditional trays, many convection ovens come with perforated trays which are preferable for convection ovens as they allow for maximum air flow.
  • However, outside of a couple perforated pans, you’ll probably spend less on accessories than you would on buying accessories for an air fryer. Many of your regular kitchen pans will already work.
  • While air fryers are famed for their ability to easily cook traditionally friend foods and frozen foods, convection oven are famed for roasting meats, cooking pizza, baking casseroles, roasting vegetables, baking scones, cookies, and much more.
  • The fan in a convention oven is located at the back instead of the top like the air fryer’s fan. The air fryer’s fan is also located directly below the heating element. The fan at the back and away from the heating element is a little less optimal than having one directly above the food.
  • Like air fryers, the fan on convection ovens is also loud.
  • The powerful fan will sometimes blow around parchment paper or tin foil which can be annoying and interfere with cooking.
  • The fan on a convection oven can usually be turned off to bake like a conventional oven, which is something an air fryer definitely can’t do.
  • You’ll have to learn how to convert recipes from a conventional oven to a convection oven. Typically you’ll need to decrease the recipe temperature by 25 degrees and the cook time is usually shortened by several minutes as well.
  • Since some ovens do have a convection setting, many people find that having another large appliance that does a similar, but slightly better job of convection cooking is a bit redundant.
  • They are typically cheaper than air fryers and conventional ovens.

What About Combination Convection Toaster Oven Air Fryers?

If after reading the above you’re still really struggling to decide which appliance is best for you, then a combination convection toaster oven air fryer might be of interest to you. These devices are usually sized somewhere in between a convention oven and air fryer. However, since the bigger the size, the less powerful the “frying” ability, I feel that these devices follow the list of convection oven pros more than the air fryer’s.

If you lined all three devices up, the cooking speed and the crispness factor of the combination device would typically be above the convection oven and below the air fryer. So if you’re trying to keep the quickest and crispiest cooking you can get, but want a little more room and variety than an air fryer can provide, this could be the right option for you. Or, another way of saying it, if you enjoy the larger size and variety that a convection oven has, but are a little bummed that it can’t make food quite as crispy as an air fryer, then this combination oven is probably a better option for you.

Also, if you’re short on counter space and have a toaster oven and an air fryer and are looking to trade in for only one device, this combination device is also a great option.

Can You Use a Convection Oven as an Air Fryer?

You technically can, but I’m not so sure that you should. Many convection or toaster ovens have an “air fry” option. However, without the specialty perforated basked and optimal fan positioning and size that air fryer’s have, this feature has always seemed disappointing to me.

However, if you’ve already decided that an air fryer isn’t for you, then you’ll enjoy this feature on your convection oven. Just make sure to grab a couple extra supplies like a perforated crisper tray and pan and make sure to add more oil to your food when you’re “air frying” to help it crisp up better.

So, Should I Buy and Air Fryer or Convection Oven?

I don’t believe that there is any one right answer for having a convection oven or an air fryer. A lot of deciding on whether a convection oven or air fryer is better for you will depend on your lifestyle.
Convection ovens and air fryers cook the same way. So, if you already have one device, then you probably don’t need to get the other one. However, if you’ve been reading through these lists and thinking to yourself, “I really wish I could make more food with my air fryer” or “I wish I didn’t have to have my convection oven out on my counter all the time because it takes up so much space,” then maybe switching to the other device would be a smart move for your home.
For me personally, I prefer an air fryer because it’s quick and easy to cook for for my kids. We especially love it for lunches. I do have a double basket air fryer, however, to allow me to cook a little bit more food than a single basket fryer allows. Also, my current oven does has a convection mode, so whenever I’ve needed to make more food at once, I can use this mode. Even if it’s not as precise as a true convection oven might be.
Which device do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below!